Houthis attack Saudi oil tanker
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
RIYADH: Saudi King Salman reaffirmed support for Palestinians to US President Donald Trump, state media said yesterday, after his son and heir apparent said Israel has a “right” to a homeland. The king “reaffirmed the kingdom’s steadfast position towards the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” the official Saudi Press Agency said. The king also emphasized the need to advance the Middle East peace process in a phone call with Trump, which came after Israeli forces killed 17 Palestinians last week during a demonstration on its border with Gaza.
Saudi Arabia and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations, but behind the scenes their ties appear to have improved in recent years against what they see as a common Iranian threat. Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians has long proved an obstacle to a full rapprochement, however, as Riyadh still supports the Palestinian claim to sovereignty. But Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman indicated a notable shift in the kingdom’s position in an interview published Monday with US news magazine The Atlantic.
The prince was asked by the magazine whether the “Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland?” “I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation,” said the prince, who is on a three-week US tour. “I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land,” he added. “But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations.” Since 2002, Saudi Arabia has been the main sponsor of the Arab Peace Initiative, which envisions a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No senior Saudi official is known to have previously accepted that Israel has a right to any land beyond the practical need to secure a lasting deal.
Separately, Yemen’s Houthi group hit a Saudi oil tanker off the main port city of Hodeidah yesterday, the Saudi-led coalition said, in an attack that could complicate a new United Nations push to end a war that has killed more than 10,000 people. The Iranian-aligned Houthis said they had targeted a coalition warship in response to an air strike on Hodeidah on Monday that killed at least a dozen civilians, including seven children.
Tensions have been rising in recent days after the Houthis, who control most of northern Yemen, launched a series of missile strikes on Saudi Arabia, including the capital Riyadh, in recent days. In a statement carried by Saudi media, the coalition said the oil tanker was in international waters when it came under “Houthi-Iranian attack” at around 1330 local time (1030 GMT). A coalition warship conducted a “swift intervention” foiling the attack, it said, without identifying the type of weapon used in the assault. “As a result of that attack, the tanker was subjected to a slight but ineffective hit and it resumed its naval course northwards, escorted by a coalition warship,” the statement said.
A European Union naval force that operates in the region confirmed the ship was underway, adding that the crew was safe and unharmed. The media department of the Houthi-run Yemeni military said naval forces had “targeted a battleship belonging to the coalition in response to the bombardment of displaced people in Hodeidah”. It gave no further details. The department’s text message was referring to an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition on Monday in Houthi-controlled Hodeidah that destroyed a house and killed 12 civilians from the same family, including seven children. A coalition spokesman said the alliance takes the report very seriously, promising a full investigation.
Last week, Saudi air defenses intercepted a flurry of missiles, and falling debris caused the first death in the capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supplying missiles to the Houthis, who have taken over the Yemeni capital Sanaa and other parts of the country. Tehran and the Houthis deny the charge. Earlier yesterday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the warring sides in Yemen to reach a political settlement to end a conflict now in its fourth year that has left 22 million people in urgent need of aid. – Agencies